What is self-harm?

Self-harm is when you hurt yourself as a way of dealing with very difficult feelings, old memories, or overwhelming situations and experiences. The ways you hurt yourself can be physical, such as cutting yourself. They can also be less obvious, such as putting yourself in risky situations, or not looking after your own physical or emotional needs.

How might I feel?

If you self-harm, you may feel embarrassed or ashamed about it. You might be worried that other people will judge you or pressurise you to stop if you tell them about it. This may mean that you keep your self-harming a secret. This is a very common reaction, although not everyone does this.

Many of us might think we know what self-harming involves, but not everyone realises it can include over-eating, under-eating, excessive exercising, scratching and hair pulling.

After self-harming, you might feel better and more able to cope for a while. However, self-harm can bring up very difficult feelings and could make you feel worse.

There are no fixed rules about why people self-harm. For some people, it can be linked to specific experiences, and be a way of dealing with something that is happening now, or that happened in the past. For others, it is less clear. If you don’t understand the reasons for your self-harm, it’s important to remind yourself that this is OK, and you don’t need to know this in order to ask for help.

Any difficult experience can cause someone to self-harm. Common causes include:

  • pressures at school or work
  • money worries
  • confusion about your sexuality
  • breakdown of relationships
  • an illness or health problem
  • difficult feelings, such as depression, anxiety, anger or numbness, experienced as part of a mental health problem.

How can I help?

There are numerous strategies you can put in place yourself to help stop yourself before you get to the point of self-harming. To find out more about these different techniques take a look at the Mind Website

Some of the advice they offer is to:

  • work out your patterns of self-harm
  • learn to recognise triggers
  • learn to recognise urges
  • distract from the urge to self-harm
  • delay self-harm
  • build your self-esteem
  • Look after your general wellbeing

Advice from other young people who have self-harmed in the past can be found on the Childline website, but 6 effective methods outlined include:

  • listening to music
  • talking to friends or family
  • writing down how you feel
  • drawing a butterfly on yourself - the aim is to keep it alive and if you self-harm you ‘kill’ the butterfly
  • exercise
  • squeezing an ice cube


Possible distractions

Anger and


 Express it physically:

  • exercise in a way that feels helpful rather than harmful
  • hit cushions
  • shout
  • dance
  • shake
  • bite on bunched up material
  • tear something up into hundreds of pieces

Sadness and fear

  •  wrap a blanket round you
  • spend time with an animal
  • walk in nature
  • let yourself cry or sleep
  • listen to soothing music
  • tell someone how you feel
  • massage your hands
  • lie in a comfortable position and breathe in deeply – then breathe out slowly, making your out-breath longer than your in-breath. Repeat until you feel more relaxed. (See relaxation)

Need to control

  • write lists
  • tidy up
  • have a throw-out
  • write a letter saying everything you are feeling and burn it
  • weed a garden
  • clench then relax all your muscles

Numb and disconnected

  • flick elastic bands on wrists
  • hold ice cubes
  • eat something with a strong taste like chilli or peppermint
  • smell something with strong odour
  • have a very cold shower

Where can I go for help?

No Harm Done http://www.inourhands.com/noharmdoneyoungpeople/

ChildLine helpline 0800 1111. You can call ChildLine anytime to speak to a counsellor

Young Minds www.youngminds.org.uk/for_children_young_people

NHS www.nhs.uk/conditions/Self-injury

Further resources can also be found on the Health and Wellbeing page of our website